|Don Ryan / Associated Press|
|Stanford's Kevin Hogan will lead the Cardinal into a highly anticipated November game against Oregon.|
Here is a look at the 10 must-see conference games leading up to the 2013 Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 7:
10. Arizona at California, Nov. 2, time/network TBD -- While it might not mean much in the conference race, this has the makings of the kind of high-scoring shootout that has been a Pac-12 staple through all of its various iterations. The Wildcats averaged 38 points and 526 yards of total offense per game last season, and new Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes' track record for prolific production is equally impressive. It also features the top running back on the West Coast in Ka'Deem Carey, but Cal junior Brendan Bigelow could be in the discussion for that title by season's end.
9. UCLA at Oregon, Oct. 26, time/network TBD -- The list of quarterbacks to defeat Chip Kelly's Ducks at Autzen Stadium was small but impressive: Kellen Moore (most wins in FBS history), Matt Barkley (Pac-12 record for career touchdown passes) and Kevin Hogan (well on his way to becoming one of the top signal-callers in college football). Kelly is gone, but the intimidating atmosphere and deafening noise remains. Can Brett Hundley overcome the surroundings and lead the Bruins to a win?
8. USC at Arizona State, Sept. 28, time/network TBD -- The Sun Devils face a brutal early four-game gauntlet of Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. Head coach Todd Graham's group can either solidify themselves as the class of the Pac-12 South or kiss the division goodbye here, the latter more likely if Arizona State running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster can't improve on the 15 rushing yards on eight carries they managed in the 38-17 loss to the Trojans last season.
7. Oregon at Washington, Oct. 12, time/network TBD -- The Pacific Northwest's bitter rivalry hasn't been remotely competitive for nearly a decade, as the Ducks have ripped off nine straight wins, all by at least 17 points. If Washington can't close the gap with a sterling offensive core of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receiver Kasen Williams and running back Bishop Sankey, it is fair to ask if head coach Steve Sarkisian can ever do so.
6. UCLA at USC, Nov. 30, time/network TBD -- The city championship is relevant once again. The Bruins clinched a berth in the conference title game in a 38-28 win over the Trojans last season, ending the battle with linebacker Anthony Barr's exclamation point sack, which finished off Barkley's college career. If the division is on the line again in this game, USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast could help give the Trojans an edge. His defense at Cal sacked Hundley six times and intercepted him four times last season in a 43-17 UCLA loss that was the strangest result in the Pac-12.
5. Arizona State at Stanford, Sept. 21, time/network TBD -- If Arizona State is the real deal, it will be because of defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton exploded onto the scene with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season, but has never faced off against Stanford All-America guard David Yankey. Each claimed the Morris Trophy, voted on by Pac-12 players and awarded to the top offensive and defensive lineman in the conference. This is a titanic showdown between two absolute powerhouses.
4. Oregon State at Oregon, Nov. 29, 7:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1 -- In 2008, the Beavers' Rose Bowl hopes came to an end at the hands of their in-state rival. Oregon State hasn't been able to return the favor, but could do that or more this season. Beavers wide receiver Brandin Cooks is a star in the making, and the secondary led by corner Rashaad Reynolds could be special.
3. Stanford at Oregon State, Oct. 26, time/network TBD -- Looking at the schedule, the Beavers could easily be 7-0 and ranked in the top 10 when Stanford comes to Corvallis. Oregon State was 7-1 last season and nursing a 23-21 fourth-quarter lead on the Farm last season when the ball inexplicably slipped out of quarterback Cody Vaz's hand to set up the game-winning Stanford score, changing the entire Pac-12 North outlook in the process.
2. Stanford at USC, Nov. 16, time/network TBD -- If there is one thing the Cardinal and cardinal and gold of USC know how to do, it is Hollywood-caliber drama. There was the "What's Your Deal?" game in 2009, followed by a game-winning field goal at the buzzer, a triple-overtime masterpiece between Andrew Luck and Barkley and last season's upset that no longer seemed like one by the time Stanford won the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl. Expect more of the same as the Cardinal defense tries to contain USC All-Everything wide receiver Marqise Lee.
1. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7, 9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN -- You can bet NFL defensive coordinators have taken a look at last season's 17-14 overtime Stanford upset at Oregon for tips on how to shut down Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles offense. The dominant Cardinal defensive front led by outside linebacker Trent Murphy and defensive ends Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner forced the Ducks into 17 third downs and only allowed four conversions, while Kevin Hogan was supremely poised on the game-tying drive late in regulation. New Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich inherits plenty of elite talent including quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back De'Anthony Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla. Oregon's speed vs. Stanford's power should decide not only the Pac-12 North, but also a spot in the BCS championship game.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.